"On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand"

The Extraordinary Last Rites of
Felix Bushaloo Breazeale


        In the fall of 1937, one member of the Breazeale clan had an idea that would bring him world fame in less than a year. Seventy-three year old, Felix Bushaloo Breazeale, widely known as Uncle Bush, in conversation with a local businessman, was asked what plan he had for a large, prime black walnut tree that was growing near his home. "Gonna make my coffin out of it", was his straightforward response. That lead into a discussion of death, dying, funerals, and funeral services. At one point the businessman commented, "Isn't it a shame that we never know what is going to be said about us at our funeral?" Further talks lead the two to conclude that having one's funeral while one was still alive was a sound idea. Uncle Bush mulled it over for a while and decided it was such a fine idea that he was going to arrange to have his own funeral just as soon as he could finish building his coffin. So, he felled the big black walnut tree, had it milled into boards, and began constructing his final resting place. The more he worked on it, the more determined he became. He wanted to hear his own eulogy. By late spring, 1938, everything was in order.


His friend the businessman, editor of a local newspaper, thought it was a good story. He got the word out. The rest is history.

        This all took place in the Cave Creek Community of Roane County, Tennessee, near Kingston. It was the height of the summer, 1938, just three days before Uncle Bush's 74th birthday. The following eye-witness account was published in The Roane County Banner following the 'funeral'.

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Acknowledgements

This display would not have been possible without the needed assistance and helpful contribution of the Roane County Heritage Commission, namely Robert Bailey and his capable aide, Darleen Trent. Their spirit of involved enthusiasm and competent support were invaluable assets in researching the information exhibited here. It was through their friendly cooperation and remarkable service that this project came to fruition.

Thanks and appreciation also go to Mr. Frank Huggins of Cumming, Ga. Mr. Huggins is the grandson of Augustus Summers, the editor of The Roane County Banner in 1938, who was the primary architect of the Bush Breazeale funeral event. Mr. Huggins is the owner of a series of photographs, passed to him from his grandfather, that form the core of the visual aspects of these pages. He graciously gave his permission to use the photos, currently on loan to the Roane County Heritage Commission.

(Note: Augustus Summers, Uncle Bush's businessman friend and owner/editor of The Roane County Banner, got the ball rolling when he published the initial story and submitted it to the Associated Press and United Press. He became Uncle Bush's 'publicity agent'. It is possible that he was the writer of the following account. However, Banner reporter, Floyd Strong, was also at the funeral and wrote an account of the event. As far as we know, the source did not have a 'by line'. This article was written on Monday, June 27, 1938, though it was not published until June 30 since The Roane County Banner was a weekly paper that published on Thursday.)




The Roane County Banner


VOLUME 83-NO. 41                            KINGSTON, TENN.                    THURSDAY, JUNE 30, 1938

Roane County's Greatest Crowd Attends Funeral

        The greatest crowd in the history of Rhone County and many say the largest in Tennessee, outside of the cities, assembled last Sunday at the little Cave Creek Baptist Church, east of Kingston, for the Bush Breazeale funeral services.


        The crowd began to gather Friday night when five carloads of tourists who had heard of the unusual services, stopped and camped at Cave Creek and waited until Sunday. Early Sunday morning people began to gather for the event and thousands stood for hours waiting for Uncle Bush to appear and to hear Rev. Chas. E. Jackson, Pastor of the First Christian Church of Paris, Ill., deliver the funeral memorial sermon for a live corpse. By eight o'clock Sunday morning there were several cars there and people were walking across hills, coming in by autos and trucks and by nine o'clock it was estimated more than one thousand had gathered. From then on, until the time of the services at two p. m., the crowd continued to increase until an estimated twelve thousand had gathered. Many of the cities in East Tennessee were well-represented by hundreds who came in busloads.
        By two o'clock, the two mile road down to the Cave Creek Church had a line of parked cars on it and many were parked on the main highway. Hundreds parked in barnyards and in fields adjoining and near the church.
        When the hour set for the funeral came, the crowd began feverishly looking for the funeral procession to appear. The funeral cortege was late, as the jam along the highway delayed the procession some forty minutes. At last the hearse bearing the homemade coffin, with Bush on the front seat, appeared and the crowd was so eager to see him that the officers had difficulty in making a lane to allow the pallbearers to carry the coffin to its place in front of the tent.


        Bush was seated in front of his casket and for several minutes ran a barrage of the cameramen who took numerous pictures of him and the crowd.
        Music was furnished by the Friendly Eight Octette of Chattanooga, under the direction of Clyde A. Blaylock, singing "Where We'll Never Grow Old", "The City of Gold", and "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand" and by Fred Berry of Knoxville, who sang, "There's a Gold Mine in the Sky."
        Uncle Felix, calm as a September morning, sat in front of the preacher, peering through overhanging sycamore branches. A slight smile played around his lips. Not seeing the crowd, but lifted up to search the blue beyond the top of a giant oak, Uncle Bush's eyes held something that was not in the faces of the crowd around him.
        The preacher heaped praise on Mr. Breazeale and referred to him as an exemplary citizen. Mr. Jackson is a former Rockwood minister. Mr. Breazeale has been a member of the Cave Creek church for 30 years.
        Rev. Jackson delivered an excellent sermon appropriate to the unusual occasion.
        "It's not a bad idea," Mr. Jackson said, referring to the funeral services for a living corpse. He said he didn't like the idea at first, but had changed his mind. "If a lot of those roughnecks out there had to face the music before they pass out, it would improve their way of living. This may mark the day of a new era in funerals."
        "It is interesting to find an individual of this type," the speaker continued, "who finds time to look into the future. It might be a wholesome thing if everyone could hear his own funeral preached."
        We are printing the sermon in full in another column of this issue.
        As the minister talked, the portable public address system blinked out and the throng pushed forward to hear his words. A woman under the canopy fainted and had to be carried out. Several others squeezed through the crowd to open air.
        Outside, three or four drink stands were busy dispensing cold pop and sandwiches. Photographers' flash bulbs exploded and children were held high in the air to peep over adults heads.
        The calmest person in the Cave Creek neighborhood was Uncle Felix, who thoroughly enjoyed the day's proceedings. At the conclusion of the formal program, he shook hands with a thousand or more friends and visitors from other sections. Many "official programs" were autographed by Mr. Breazeale, who marked his "X".
        "This will be my only funeral," he declared, "and I'm mighty well pleased with it. When I die there won't be another one."
        He hardly knows how he decided to have his funeral preached before he died. "Just like to know what the preacher would say about me, I guess."
         Mr. Breazeale, who will be 74 years old Wednesday, was born and reared in Roane County, on Dogwood Road. He never was married, explaining that he could not get the woman he wanted and wouldn't have those he could get. His closest companion is an old mule, which he contends is smarter than some people.

        Large floral wreaths of lilies, gladiolas, carnations and ferns were donated by Knoxville and Chattanooga florists and placed on the casket. At the conclusion of the 'funeral', people crowded forward to shake Uncle Bush's hand and pat the satin gleam of his casket. All four of the big floral offerings were stripped bare as a plucked chicken. Men in jeans stuck gladiola or carnation blooms into their shirt pockets or carried tight bouquets of fern and flowers. Some were taking them home to press for souvenirs.
        Sunday's memorial service climaxed the plan Uncle Felix had in mind when he started building his own casket from a walnut tree which stood near his home. He plans to be buried in it when he dies.
        For four or five hours after the 'funeral' was completed, automobiles edged along the graveled road toward major highways leading to the outside world. Soft drink trucks loaded their 'empties' and started home.
        Everyone seemed to enjoy the occasion to the fullest and hundreds lined up and shook hands with Bush after the services were over and wished him many years of life.
        Bush said that the sermon was the finest he had ever heard and was well-pleased with all the "doin's and goin's on," although he said he never intended for his funeral to be "such a big stir off." He had in mind to have a quiet affair, he said, until the newspapers got "aholt of it" and let everybody know about it.
        Bush wore his new outfit, which Halls of Knoxville had given him for the event.

He enjoyed the day perhaps more than anyone there. He is probably the only one in the United States that has ever held such a funeral.
        It is the general consensus of opinions that the "funeral" was a big success.
        After the service was over and the crowd had gone, Bush went back to his cabin home, to "Mule" -- that's his mule's name -- taking the casket with him. It may be a long, long time before Uncle Felix is ready to be placed in his homemade casket for the last long sleep. He comes from a long-lived family.







        And the people seemed to come from everywhere for the funeral. One man counted cars from fourteen states. We know of cars from Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Washington, Arkansas, Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama, NewYork, Louisiana, and Missouri. Among the out of state visitors were Paul Woosie of Atlanta, N. Y., Hugh Breazeale of Fonders, Ky., George Littleton of Oakdale, Wash., John Harrison of S. C., Wm. Littleton and daughter of Osceola, Ark., Louis, John E., and John D. Humble and their wives from Jamestown, Ky., Mrs. H. A. Gentry of Monroe, La. and Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Holder of Newport, Ark. There were hundreds of other visitors from other states.
        The press was well-represented including the Knoxville News-Sentinel and Journal, the Chattanooga Times, News and Free Press, each paper having a battery of editors, reporters, and cameramen. The Associated Press sent their Knoxville manager, Don Whitehead, to cover the event.
        Hundreds of pictures were taken of Bush and the crowd by these newsmen and the papers blossomed out in their editions Monday with big front page spreads of the event. It was the biggest news for the newspapers in many a long moon. One veteran reporter said it was the biggest rural crowd he had ever seen in Tennessee and estimated it to contain at least 12,000 people.



Below are references to a variety of articles, newspaper columns, and other tributes that have been published since the time Uncle Bush had the idea to witness his own funeral. Each one has something unique to offer. Above is a link to the Cave Creek Cemetery. Don't miss it.
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Uncle Bush Picture Book - Most of the pictures used on this website, located on one page, in more-or-less chronological order, with additional notes, observations, and research findings. Click here.

A short column published in the Knoxville News-Sentinel on May 1, 1938, two months before Uncle Bush's funeral. Click here


A short column written on May 30, 1938, one month before Uncle Bush's funeral. Click here

A very short item containing tidbits of conversation with Uncle Bush during the week before the funeral. He explains a little and expounds a little. Click here

A fully developed eye-witness report published in The Knoxville News-Sentinel on June 27, 1938, the day after the funeral. It was written by Bonnie Tom Robinson. This article is one of the most comprehensive pieces we have located. This was the first eye-witness account I read and began to work up for the lead piece on the opening page above, but it was incomplete. So I had to put it on hold and work up another one, thinking that I could switch them once I had gotten the complete version. That was before I read the Roane County Banner piece. I like the Banner piece more, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the Augustus Summers connection. All-in-all, the Banner piece is #1 and this is #2. The Bonnie Tom Robinson article has a lot to offer that is not found elsewhere. The author has quoted Uncle Bush and his friends more than any other item so far found. The narrative seems to bring Uncle Bush out more. It makes him seem warmer and more personable. The pictures are very good and support the narrative well. Click here

A review of the correspondence between Uncle Bush's business manager and the Ripley's Believe It or Not! radio program in New York City during the days following the funeral. It includes the series of telegrams exchanged, with analysis and associated comments. Imbedded at the end of the page is a link to a sound file of the Ripley's Believe It or Not radio program of July 26, 1938, featuring Uncle Bush. It is a six-minute-plus MP3 file that requires Windows Media Player or comparable software to play. Click here

An account of the funeral published in The Harriman Record in 1957, authored by Betty Magee. Ms. Magee was a staff writer apparently given an assignment. She wrote the article before her homework was complete, and went to press with several misconceptions, false assumptions, and incorrect statements. Research notes and comments follow article. Click here

A short column published in the Knoxville News-Sentinel in 1958, authored by columnist Bert Vincent. It offers distinctive observations. Click here

An account of the funeral published in the Roane county NEWS in 1979, authored by Carol Batey. Ms. Batey interviewed eyewitness Roland Barnette who had saved newspaper articles of the event. Click here

An article published in the Roane county NEWS in 1981, authored by columnist Snyder Roberts. It also offers intriguing tidbits not found elsewhere. Click here

An article by Pat Hope giving a rendition of the Bush Funeral. She interviewed a lady who lived in the Cave Creek community and witnessed the funeral. Name of paper that published the article is not known at this time. The second half of the article is an excellent discussion of Roane County history, people and events of the area. Link provided to Research Notes, Comments and Observations. Click here

A sermon preached by Ken Trivitte after 1986. The sermon opens with Uncle Bush's story. This is not the sermon preached at Uncle Bush's funeral. Click here

An account of the funeral published in the Roane county NEWS in 2001, authored by eyewitness Polly Sherwood. It offers authenic observations and novel perspective. 2001 was bicentennial year for Roane County. This article was special to Roane newspapers. Click here

A short article published in a genealogy book, quoting a newspaper column published the day after Uncle Bush's death. Click here

A short article published in The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Feb. 10, 1943, the day after Uncle Bush's death. Click here

A short article published in The Knoxville Journal, Feb. 10, 1943, the day after Uncle Bush's death. Click here

A series of pages that provide a study of the murder of Brack Smith in August of 1891. Uncle Bush was accused, arrested, charged with the crime, tried by jury, and subsequently acquitted. He spent the greater part of 1892 in the Roane County jail, since he could not meet the $5000 bail. There are indications in this information pool that Uncle Bush was concerned about how this period of his life would be portrayed in his eulogy and that was a primary motivation to witness his own funeral before he died. He wanted to make sure that the "true facts" were correctly set out at his funeral. As far as we know, the Brack Smith murder wasn't mentioned in the eulogy. Uncle Bush was "mighty well pleased" with the sermon, said it was the best he had ever heard, and declared there would not be another one. For a review of the "true facts" as they were originally set out, Click here

Click here for a list of the basic items needed to complete UncleBush's page.

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